By Joe Badalamenti
As a result of a disease outbreak, many schools and universities have decided to cancel in-person classes. This has consequently spread to Binghamton, although it seemed like we didn’t have a choice considering decrees by the NY state government. Because this occurred in the middle of the semester, schools needed to find something to replace classes in order to teach. For synchronous classes, Binghamton, as well as many other schools, decided to choose the Zoom application as it’s new medium. While the app functions at a minimum, I’ve determined, in less than 2 weeks of use, that Zoom is not a decent substitute for in person classes.
While Zoom may seem like it’s a fine replacement, it has some glaring issues. The first issue is on the technical side. Has this ever happened to you: you just logged into a Zoom class when all of a sudden the quality starts dropping and you’re suddenly disconnected from the Zoom call. You eventually reconnect despite missing about a minute of instruction. This has happened to me several times and has been a constant source of disappointment. While it may sound like a small inconvenience, it becomes pretty aggravating when you consider the alternative of physical classes. But, then again, we’re in quarantine because of a disease that affects .01% of college students, so what do I know. While random disconnections are the largest technical issue, smaller video and audio bugs can also occur. Some of these issues may just be the result of bad internet connections but this just means that the course quality is dependent on something you can not control. For example, in a normal semester I can control whether I’m in my morning chemistry lecture but I can’t control my WiFi connection if there’s a power outage. While these technical problems may be the only issues inherent to zoom, there are other issues that affect classes.
One effect of the sudden transition to online classes is a change in behavior of the students. A lack of interaction is one of the first things that come to mind. Back when in person classes were still a thing, a common occurrence was to converse with my fellow classmates. This would happen before the lecture began, with topics ranging from discussions on the material and teaching to small talk about the latest news story. This form of social interaction, also called having a conversation, has led to former classmates becoming acquaintances as well as team mates for class projects. This loss is especially detrimental to freshmen who likely don’t know anyone other than the students in their dorm. In the world of Zoom, however, no one is in person to have any conversations. While class group chats do exist, these aren’t unique to Zoom classes, so you only lose out on the social interaction. I believe this is one of the major causes why many students have decided to take their classes from home instead of living on campus. This may sound like a big nitpick but once the restrictions are removed, you should notice the difference.
Of course it would be foolish not to mention the outbreak of Zoom bombings. The only thing worse than being removed from the lecture due to a bad connection is a drawn out disruption by some anonymous troll. The last thing already stressed out students need is for “Michael Oxlong” to join the meeting and blast the latest bass boosted mumble rap single. Last week, Binghamtonbarstool posted a video of one such occurrence, so it’s clear that Binghamton isn’t immune. While it may be funny to see it on your daily dank meme compilation, it’s pretty annoying when it happens in person. The cause behind this phenomenon isn’t hard to understand. Because of the anonymity as well as the lack of consequences from these attacks, those who seek clout (read: attention) are encouraged to this behavior. It also doesn’t help that it only takes a link to join an in progress meeting, so almost everyone can join whatever meeting they can get their hands on. While Zoom does have protections such as passcodes and ban power, passcodes can be easily bypassed and bans usually happen after the disruption.
It’s clear that Zoom classes have problems when compared to the traditional mode of instruction. One can go through all the technical difficulties and Zoom bombings and say that online classes are a suitable replacement. Even if a different medium was used such as Google Classroom, I would expect the same issues to present themselves. While private universities may be able to offer quality classes online, Binghamton was not built to be an online university so we should not expect it to have the infrastructure to support such a transition. Once things return to normal, it’s in the best interest of Binghamton University to transition back to regular classes permanently.